"Wow â€“ this place looks amazing!" said a neighbor, one of the usual 20 to 30 people who have been stopping by every day to see how the refurbishing of Rossotti's Alpine Inn, or Zott's, is coming along.
A couple of private parties over the July 20-21 weekend marked a soft opening for family, friends and construction workers.
The owners have announced that Zott's will reopen to the public on Friday, Aug. 9. The hours will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Since February, work crews have been toiling away to bring the 167-year-old institution back to "the best version of itself," as Lori Hunter puts it. She is leading the project for a group of investors from Portola Valley that includes herself, husband Deke Hunter, and friends Fred and Stephanie Harman, and Jim Kohlberg.
Restaurant veteran Greg St. Claire, who grew up in Woodside and Portola Valley, is an operating partner. His Avenir Restaurant Group consists of Milagros in Redwood City, Town in San Carlos and Nola in Palo Alto. The latter enterprise also involved updating a historic building.
When longtime owner Molly Alexander died two years ago at age 93, her family decided to sell Alpine Inn. St. Claire says a trustee oversaw the place for the last four years, and it became fairly run down, and yet multiple people from the area competed to buy the beloved town fixture at the corner of Alpine and Arastradero roads. According to one published report, the winning bid was over $3.8 million.
Why all the interest? "It's a community asset," says Ms. Hunter. Think of the many memories accumulated by Stanford students, Little League and AYSO players, cycling, hiking and running groups, Hewlett-Packard employees, high school reunion attendees, and long-time locals.
At first Hunter believed the place just needed a fresh coat of paint, but after the property changed hands, the new partners realized that almost everything needed attention, she said.
They were able to rebuild the original coolers, but had to start over in the kitchen because it was "illegal, all home stuff, needed upgrading, had no sink, no grease trap," St. Claire said.
"The whole tavern was full of asbestos," he said.
Workers peeled away five layers of old linoleum before covering the floor with barn wood reclaimed from Half Moon Bay.
All of the original wooden tabletops, picnic tables and benches where patrons carved their names and initials have been converted into paneling outside and booths inside. St. Claire pointed out where his father carved his name as a Stanford freshman.
The new indoor tabletops are made from 150-year-old first-growth redwood taken from a water tank in La Honda and remilled into planks.
The indoor bar looks almost the same after Woodside cabinetmaker Paul Bett touched up some broken bits.
One by one, Ms. Hunter cleaned the old license plates and beer bottles that decorated the walls. The historic photos look sharper, too, now that the films of grease and dust have been removed or replaced with fresh frames.
The owners have brought in some new memorabilia, mostly from Stanford University archives.
The plaques are back. The ones honoring patrons who have drunk a thousand beers are located outside, next to the new 33-foot-long bar that leads to the picnic tables in the beer garden out back.
Ms. Hunter says 500 gallons of fertilizer and some tree trimming helped save the enormous Arizona Blue cypress out there. Some new native sycamores were planted to provide more shade.
The yard has always overlooked Los Trancos Creek, but now people can actually see it: The fence and the shack have been removed. According to St. Claire, the building dated to about the 1970s and served as a residence and office before being abandoned. Asbestos, black mold and lead paint removal drew out the demolition process to three months.
Today the ground is flat, compacted and ready for more creekside diners, rounding up total tavern capacity to 300.
Four porta-potties stand ready for the crowds, supplementing the two remodeled indoor bathrooms, one of which is large enough to meet ADA requirements. New wooden ramps were added on both sides of the tavern for the same reason.
A new storage and office building covered in reclaimed barn wood now sits on the parking lot side of the yard in the same place as a structure that used to be there many years ago, St. Claire said.
He's already talking about Phase II and the plan to build out a "real professional kitchen.
Meanwhile, Executive Chef Sean Agoliati, formerly with Los Altos Grill, is crafting a menu that expands beyond burgers and fries to smoked turkey and chicken, some vegetable offerings, salads, and desserts.
St. Claire said they will use a lot of local produce and "try to represent local wines in the area ... great wine at great prices."
And the tavern will be serving cocktails now that it has a full liquor license.
As for the staff, Ms. Hunter said, "They all have the opportunity to come back."
Founded in 1852 as the Casa De Tableta roadhouse, where country folk could gather to play cards, dance and drink, the property has changed names and owners multiple times, and is registered as the second oldest continually operating tavern in the state.
Woodside architect Stevan Patrick of Midglen Studio has helped guide the refurbishing. "It's been a challenge, but being creative has been fun," he said.
Ms. Hunter has lots of experience with residential remodels and designing vegetable gardens, but this is her first commercial project.
She smiles as she reminisces about the rectangular Zott's burgers served on sourdough bread, and clearly enjoys bringing back a treasure that means something to her and her family.
As she says, all of the partners "have grown up bringing our families here, and want it to live on for another 167 years."